(New York) - India should immediately implement its laws and policies to strengthen its human rights protections as a new member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Human Rights Watch said last week in a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. When it presented its candidacy to the Human Rights Council, India pledged to uphold the highest standards to promote and protect human rights.

"India has made significant promises outlining its human rights record and commitments," said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Now it's time for India to keep those promises."

The letter makes specific recommendations to improve accountability of the security forces for human rights violations, to strengthen civil society and support for free expression, and to protect the rights of women and other vulnerable groups. Human Rights Watch also urged India to use its considerable regional influence to address human rights problems in other countries and to assert leadership as a human rights promoter at the council. In the past, India has often opposed strong action to address violations.

To demonstrate its commitment to human rights, the Indian government should follow through on the pledges it submitted ahead of the May 20, 2011 Human Rights Council elections, Human Rights Watch said. This includes striving for the full realization of civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights for everyone in India and carrying out recommendations made during the first round of its own Universal Periodic Review (UPR), the review of its record by fellow member states.

"As India's regional and global influence grows, it needs to modernize its foreign policy to reflect its status as the world's largest democracy," Ganguly said. "This is a chance for India to shine on the world stage."